October 28, 2021

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The Electric Pickup Revolution Is Real, and It’s Here

“Disrupting” the auto industry isn’t as simple as throwing money at whimsies–it requires overcoming a missing century of institutional knowledge. Rivian, an electric truck startup backed by billions from Amazon and Ford, looks like it has a shot, though as cautionary tales like Nikola showed us, big investors don’t mean a company’s not a shambling wreck. The Irvine, California-based startup has to prove it’s the real deal by mass-producing an EV that works and turning a profit while doing so.



"Disrupting" the auto industry isn't as simple as throwing money at whimsies—it requires overcoming a missing century of institutional knowledge. Rivian, an electric truck startup backed by billions from Amazon and Ford, looks like it has a shot, though as cautionary tales like Nikola showed us, big investors don't mean a company's not a shambling […]


© Provided by The Drive
“Disrupting” the auto industry isn’t as simple as throwing money at whimsies—it requires overcoming a missing century of institutional knowledge. Rivian, an electric truck startup backed by billions from Amazon and Ford, looks like it has a shot, though as cautionary tales like Nikola showed us, big investors don’t mean a company’s not a shambling […]

As past attempts to break into the car biz have shown, that’s not as easy as they may sound, especially with competition coming to the electric truck segment hot on the R1T’s tail. Contenders from Ford and GM launch within a year, giving Rivian little time to dig itself a foothold before the storm arrives. The R1T needs to take Detroit’s electric halo trucks head-on to anchor Rivian to the ground, lest it be blown away by sheer industrial might.

Having driven a pre-production 2022 Rivian R1T in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, I think it’s going to hold the line.



2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition off-roading in the Rocky Mountains


© James Gilboy
2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition off-roading in the Rocky Mountains

The R1T’s meant to be a truck not for work, but play, is made clear by its performance both on the tarmac and away from it. It’s just as comfortable muscling its way up steep, rocky terrain as it is cruising the highway, or diving down back roads at speeds some sports cars can only dream of. Aesthetically, it’s a breath of fresh air and has seemingly endless, carefully considered storage spaces. 

It’s not flawless; there are minor build quality wrinkles to iron out, plus some questionable design decisions, but no crippling shortcomings. They hardly detract, though, from the awe of driving an electric truck that’s completely in its element no matter where it goes.

2022 Rivian R1T: By the Numbers

  • Base Price (As Tested): $68,645 ($81,245)
  • Powertrain: 135-kWh lithium-ion battery | quad-motor all-wheel-drive | single-speed transmission
  • Horsepower: 835
  • Torque: 908 lb-ft
  • Curb Weight: Approx. 6,800 pounds (no exact figure released)
  • Max Towing Capacity: 11,000 pounds
  • Max Payload Capacity: 1,764 pounds
  • Off-Road Angles: 34º approach | 25.7º breakover | 29.3º departure
  • Ground Clearance: 14.9 inches
  • Water Fording: 42.7 inches
  • Seating Capacity: 5
  • 0-60: 3.0 seconds
  • EPA Estimated Range: 314 miles
  • DC Charge Rate: 140 miles in 20 minutes at 200 kW
  • Quick Take: Detroit had better bring the heat, because the R1T is one hell of an opening move.



2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition: Hello, sunshine.


© James Gilboy
2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition: Hello, sunshine.

New Construction, Old Foundation

Despite being newcomers to the auto industry, Rivian and its R1T aren’t built on foundations completely unfamiliar to the car biz. On one hand, Rivian is closely allied with Ford and builds these trucks in a former Mitsubishi factory in Illinois, while on the other, the R1T uses what’s now a commonplace style of EV platform, the “skateboard” chassis. Think a low-profile and durable frame with an integrated battery and electric motors, leaving space on top for any body style.

In the case of the R1T, that’s a crew cab pickup, though without the classic break between the cab and the bed. Paired with the frame, it results in an unusual, unibody-on-frame makeup that could combine the best–or worst–of both worlds. The finished product comes in around the size of a Jeep Gladiator, almost exactly as long and as tall, though about eight inches wider.

Under its floor sits a huge, 135-kilowatt-hour battery, good for powering the R1T’s quad-motor, four-wheel-drive powertrain an EPA-rated 314 miles. A 180 kWh, 400-mile “Max Pack” battery will be available for a $10,000 premium starting early next year. Recharging info is limited, but Rivian says it’ll recover 140 miles of range in 20 minutes on a 200-kW DC fast-charge feed. 

It can empty it again quickly too, dumping out 835 horsepower and 908 pound-feet of torque to tow up to 11,000 pounds, or do zero-to-60 in an estimated three seconds; enough to maul a Ram TRX in a drag race (I hear Rivian has a video). Double-wishbone front and multilink rear air suspension adjust ride height as needed, and in combination with active damping, stiffness too. Hydraulic roll control keeps things on the level, whether than be on tricky trails or in high-speed corners.

Being from a new-millennium EV startup, the R1T is dripping with standard technology, from Driver+ passive safety and driving aid functions to onboard entertainment. Parking sensors, rear cross-traffic, lane keep and departure, blind spot watch, forward collision warning and emergency braking mind the R1T’s position relative to other vehicles, while automatic high beams won’t blind their drivers, and trailer sensors can simplify towing. On certain highways, its adaptive cruise can be paired with hands-on automated steering and lane-change assists, giving the R1T SAE Level 2 autonomy–basically the same approach GM is taking with Super Cruise. 

Rivian calls it Highway Assist, which is a refreshingly literal name that also feels like one of several purposeful contrasts Rivian’s drawn against a certain other electric carmaker.



2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition glows red in Colorado


© James Gilboy
2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition glows red in Colorado

Locked and Loaded

I got seat time in the R1T Launch Edition, which is basically the R1T’s top trim with some preorder bonuses. An exclusive paint option, a free upgrade to off-road or sport wheels, and expedited delivery are all that separate it from the regular Adventure Package, which adds a power tonneau and spruces up its interior.

A recycled microfiber headliner stretches over Chilewich floor mats and paneling of stained ash, near which yellow highlights lurk. Seats upholstered in vegan leather are heated everywhere but the rear middle, and ventilated up front, with power lumbar adjustment for both front seats. Its 1,200-watt, 18-speaker Meridian sound system with 3D audio accepts input from onboard apps like Spotify and TuneIn in addition to Bluetooth, all of which can also feed a detachable “Camp Speaker” that docks in the center console. It’s kind of a gimmick, but a thoughtful one (it has a “campground” low bass mode to help keep the peace in the wild).

The R1T before me was fully equipped for trail use, with the optional Off-Road Upgrade’s twin front tow hooks and carbon-fiber-reinforced underbody, and 20-inch forged wheels (21s and 22s are also available with road-focused rubber). These wore specially designed Pirelli Scorpion All-Terrain Plus Elect tires, 34 inches in diameter, or about the size of those on a Ford F-150 Raptor. But while it shares a tire size with the biggest name in off-road trucks, the Rivian’s pathos is completely different.

Put On a Happy Face

Most off-road trucks today put on a stern, glaring look that feels completely inappropriate to vehicles that are supposed to be about a good time. The R1T is the antithesis of this, peeping over ridges with benevolent eyes that evokes Big Hero 6‘s Baymax, its grille completing a face that can only be described as geekin’. I adore the subtle aero blades in its fender flares, the cleverly hidden spoiler at the back of the cab, visible only from below, and the simple bar for a rear taillight. It reminds me of Geordi La Forge; of an optimistic sci-fi future, and of boldly going where none have gone before.

I’m less excited by the selection of factory wheels, all of which look somewhat generic, and I did find some small inconsistency in the panel gaps around the gear tunnel–more on that below. I’m willing to write that and a couple of loose corners in the upholstery of the rear seatback, off as pre-production teething. Like the rest of the body and interior, it felt at least as solid, if not better in some places, than even the laudable Polestar 2.

Some of this was down to superb material choices, starting with the unpolished wood paneling, whose coarse, weathered texture and unique grain makes it impossible to confuse for veneer or plastic. The headliner had me thinking suede, and upholstery was a worthy substitute for leather, while the seats they covered–power-adjustable with memory settings–are both comfortable and looked like they belong to something capable of light speed.

Legroom is plentiful, and with a high panoramic glass roof, so is headroom, which a removable roof option coming in 2022 may bolster. Visibility is as strong as anything these days, with a large rear window, and well-positioned second-row windows to minimize blind spots. What few remained, of course, were monitored constantly by the R1T’s onboard safety tech.

Screening Internally

The adjustable assists are toggled through one of the many submenus in the R1T’s 16-inch infotainment screen, which features Amazon Alexa integration. Its native interface is as good as any, and additional apps, games, and even functions like the delayed Tank Turn are promised to be coming via over-the-air updates. It doesn’t do Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though, and concentrates more functions than is ideal, such as HVAC controls, even down to vent adjustment. Whether you have a distaste for touchscreens or not, we can all agree you shouldn’t have to take my eyes off the road to do that.

This slight over-complication became inconvenient when, after a long day of driving, the infotainment became unresponsive. Odds are this will be patched with an OTA update, but it makes me wary of electronic hiccups elsewhere, like with the electronically locked center console, and the pop-out door handles, which sit flush when the keyfob isn’t nearby. And while I encountered no door handle malfunctions, hearing our Guides & Gear Executive Editor Jonathon Klein’s tale of getting locked out of a certain Fremont-made EV because its door handles froze up makes me hesitant to trust them.

But it’s hard to stay negative about onboard tech when you can listen to Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr. Blue Sky in 18-speaker, 3D-audio glory, in higher quality than even a live performance. You could stream it through those onboard apps, or through your phone, linked to the onboard LTE hotspot, and charged off any of six USB-C ports about the cabin (there are also 12- and 110-volt outlets).

If REI Made a Truck

The R1T was envisioned as an outdoor recreation vehicle from the get-go, and its keyfobs are styled accordingly. One’s shaped like a carabiner, another is a waterproof wristband, though there is also a keycard and a phone app option for more everyday use. Hidden in the driver’s door is a 1,000-lumen flashlight with a cell identical to those in the under-floor pack, which, trivia time, brings the total cell count to exactly 7,777. In the dark, it’ll help you find your way to the standard, bed wall-mounted air compressor, which can pump a set pressure as high as 150 psi through an included 20-foot hose with quick disconnects, and adapters for inflating a variety of outdoor gear.

Said gear can be stored in the R1T’s numerous compartments, whose capacity totals 38.5 cubic feet, not including the bed. These include the drain-equipped front trunk and under-bed compartments, a cubby under the rear seat, and the Gear Tunnel; a nifty, watertight, LED-lit space that runs the width of the vehicle. Its back-seat pass-through port can be used to stuff something on top of your skis, golf clubs, or rifles, assuming the space isn’t filled by the optional roll-out Camp Kitchen, or perhaps a body. You can crawl through it, as I’ll demonstrate for you now:

Further, there are 12- and 120-volt outlets inside the doors, each of them capable of supporting 300 pounds. These are handy for loading the 54-inch bed, which while stubby has integral tie-downs, anchors for an included eight-foot, cut-resistant cable to secure cargo, and attachment points for optional crossbars that can mount an optional three-person tent.

The door and seat-back pockets deserve a special mention of their own, too. They’re rigid-backed and hinged at the bottom, with a tensile strap to keep them taut–they won’t get distended the way many seat-back pockets do. It’s all in service, of course, of holding up to outdoor sojourns, which the R1T itself can go on with the best of them.

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads

My drive in the R1T took me above 12,000 feet–not that elevation really matters to an electric vehicle–on a rock-crawling trail that I’m confident even some terrific late-model off-road trucks couldn’t tackle (we’re talking Rubicon territory). There, I tested the R1T’s off-road driving modes, which optimize its ride height, damping, stability control, power distribution, and pedal map. According to Rivian, these let the R1T creep up slopes as steep as 45 degrees, and wade up to 42.7 inches of water, while approach, breakover, and departure angles of 34, 25.7, and 29.3 degrees with up to 14.9 inches of ground clearance enable uninhibited travel over broken ground.

That kind of capability eased the R1T up wet, rocky creek beds and down dusty trails, its torque-vectoring four-wheel drive digging itself out of everything. Though heavy, its low center of gravity made it stable on unnerving camber as it straddled ruts, sparing my attention to keep the truck pointed away from roots and rocks that’d scratch its paint. And not only was this off-roading easy, but it was also downright comfortable, not to mention as quiet as any hike. The only sounds were those of tires on rocks, creeks as we passed them, and the surprised yelps of wildlife that didn’t hear us coming.



2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition posing for a picture


© James Gilboy
2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition posing for a picture

I mentioned the Raptor before; it’s an obvious comparison when you look at the power, but Rivian’s focus on approachable, all-around off-roading is more reminiscent of the Wrangler or the Toyota Tacoma or even the Land Rover Defender. I hate to call it a lifestyle vehicle, but that’s kind of what it is–Rivian’s billing it as a fancy, dependable tool to take you off into the wild, not a supertruck built to crush all comers.

Still, it must be said that the R1T’s off-road arsenal isn’t complete. Its four-corner camera setup wasn’t as useful as the full 360-degree views I’ve used in other, far older trucks, though a Rivian engineer tells me such a feature could be added at a later date; it was merely a matter of programming the image processing. Also, there’s no dedicated hill-descent mode, though setting regenerative braking to maximum filled in the gap almost completely.



2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition atop Loveland Pass in Colorado


© James Gilboy
2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition atop Loveland Pass in Colorado

Ultra-Heavyweight Champion

Trucks as unstoppable as the R1T was off-road are rarely pleasant on it, but the Rivian is the exception to the rule. Hunkering down on its air suspension to reduce drag and lower its center of gravity, the R1T rode smoothly and quietly, its noise cancellation suppressing wind at highway speeds. There’s a range-extending Conserve mode, which disconnects the rear axle, but I spent most of my time in Sport, with stiffer damping and sharper pedal response.

Not that response matters much when you flatten the R1T’s accelerator, unleashing a sound like the Millennium Falcon as it dumps 835 horsepower and 908 pound-feet of torque, almost lifting you out of your seat as 7,000 pounds (give or take) recoil under supercar-like acceleration. Six-piston front brake calipers, single-piston rears, and dual-axle regenerative braking slow the R1T in time for corners, where the Rivian basically doesn’t roll at all thanks to the electro-hydraulic anti-roll system. 

It may have been on all-terrain tires, but the R1T was still hungrier for hairpins than some actual race cars I’ve driven. Approximately 50-50 weight distribution meant it stayed predictable near the limit, too, as I determined while messing with oversteer on unpaved turnouts.



2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition in the mountains


© James Gilboy
2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition in the mountains

Of course, the limits of grip aren’t infinite, and between its immense curb weight (the exact number hasn’t been released, but Rivian told us the trucks it used for EPA testing were around 7,000 lbs) and minimal steering feel, it’s not something you’d want to approach at speed anyway. Doubly so when you get a pop-up notification that regenerative braking has been disabled like I did while cruising along a mountain road–Rivian said this was due to battery temperature controls being set too low on the prototype, and regen came back online within moments anyway.

I didn’t get to test its Rally, Drift, or Tow modes, though I was told the range penalty for towing is minimal. Depending on how aerodynamically draggy your trailer is, Rivian spokespeople say you can expect a range penalty of 20 to 40 percent on the truck’s 314-mile EPA-estimated range. This is also only achievable on the standard 21-inch wheels and road tires, as both the all-terrain and sport options reduce range some. When charge does run low, the infotainment can direct you to an unoccupied charging station, with current options being Electrify America, EVgo, and the Rivian’s growing in-house network (more networks will be integrated in the future). At peak charge rates of 200 kW DC, the R1T can recharge up to 140 miles of range in 20 minutes.



2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition is Mr. Blue Sky


© James Gilboy
2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition is Mr. Blue Sky

Leading the Charge

The R1T sets a mighty high bar for the electric pickups that will follow it, namely the 2022 GMC Hummer EV and 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning, anticipated later this year and Spring of next respectively. The Tesla Cybertruck… well, who knows. Rivian’s truck lands in the middle as far as price–it starts at $67,500, with no dealer fees or markups on top of that–power, weight, and range go, though it will eventually offer a 400-mile battery option that’ll put it in the lead. It’s also the best at towing with some caveats; its 11,000-pound rating beats the lighting’s 10,000, and the Hummer’s hasn’t yet been announced, though it will come with impressive hands-free highway towing capability.

Being shorter than the Ford and a couple of inches narrower than either has advantages on tight trails, as does the forthcoming Tank Turn feature, which the Hummer’s crab-walk can’t really match. The Lightning might also only be adapted into an off-roader at best, with a potential FX4 package, whereas the R1T and Hummer were purpose-built for the job. It bears saying, though, that on its tippy-toes, the Rivian doesn’t lift quite as high as the GMC, which will top out at 15.9 inches to the R1T’s 14.9.



2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition rock-crawling


© James Gilboy
2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition rock-crawling

Rivian’s Ready to Rumble

There are teething problems and some questionable design elements to be found in the Rivian R1T, but they’re far fewer in number than they could be, and overshadowed by how many areas that Rivian absolutely aced. There isn’t (yet) another truck out there that’s both this capable, easy, and tranquil off-road and so good on it, be it for raising or easing your heart rate. Its styling is outstanding, the thoughtful design of its storage and accessories will be catnip to adventurers, and its build quality inspires confidence.

In the end, this was a limited drive of a pre-production vehicle, but it still showed more than enough promise to deeply impress. My time with the R1T excites me for both the future short- and long-range version of the truck, not to mention the three-row R1S. It’s not far behind the R1T and should have any company that builds electric SUVs at DEFCON 1.



2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition traverses the Colorado tundra


© James Gilboy
2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition traverses the Colorado tundra

Have any curiosities about the Rivian R1T that I didn’t satisfy? Email me: [email protected]

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